Archive for the ‘grace’ Category

RIMG0033Over a number of years I became familiar with the road between Perth and Geraldton, a 433km ribbon of bitumen bounded on both sides by, at times, thick bushland.

Every so often, a bushfire would ravish the countryside and the change in scenery from one trip to another would be noticeable.

One one occasion I stopped to look more closely at a spot that had been left black and denuded by a fierce bushfire a month or two earlier.

As I walked through an area that had once been covered in heavy undergrowth and dense bush I was confronted by the devastating effects of a fire that had left trees and bushes, and even the sand beneath my feet, black and lifeless. But as I looked closer it was clear that lifeless was not the correct word to describe this place.

Tiny green shoots were breaking through the dry sand at my feet, and splashes of bright green contrasted with the blackness of burnt tree trunks as fresh shoots pushed aside the symbols of death and reached towards the sunlight.

A few times recently I have had cause to read Psalm 23 which says, in part:

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Whatever dark valley I go through the promise of God’s Word is that the fresh green shoots of God’s love and grace will continue to push through.

Even in the presence of enemies the table of grace will be prepared for me. Whether those enemies are people who bring fear and anguish to my life, or they are the enemies of death, disease, unemployment, loss, or poverty that bang angrily at the windows of my life, the table is still spread for me.

It is a table of life. A table that welcomes me when I don’t feel welcome in other situations. A table that offers hope and refreshment. It is a table that groans with the weight of fresh fruit, and delicious food. The contrast between the bright colours of the food and the blackness of the scenery around me is unbelievable.

On this table is the bread and wine that speaks of the overwhelming grace of One who was prepared to go through the darkest valley on my behalf.

And while I long to withdraw from this blackened place where my enemies hover in the shadows, I am drawn to this incredible table that has been set for me. Here in the presence of my enemies I experience forgiveness as I eat of the bread and drink of the wine; I can feel the oil of joy running down my head … and I know that I am at home.

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les-miserables_1Last night Robyn and I went to see Les Miserables at the Crown Theatre in Perth. Unintentionally we found ourselves at the front seats, close enough to see the expressions on the conductor’s face as he led the amazing orchestra and cast. It was a wonderful production – much better than the movie adaptation, I have to say.

Les Miserables is based on Victor Hugo’s 19th century novel that tells the story of a ticket-of-leave convict, John Valjean who finds himself treated as an outcast, and steals some silver from the Bishop who had given him shelter for the night. He is arrested by the police who take him back to the Bishop who, surprisingly, lies to the police in order to save the man. In fact, he gives him a couple of silver candlesticks and tells the man, in front of the police, that he had given these to him, but he must have forgotten to take them. After the police have gone, the Bishop tells Valjean to use the silver to make an honest life for himself.

The story that follows tells of the effect this act of grace has on his life as he seeks to protect and save the lives of others.

Reviewer Benedict Nightingale describes the impact of the story like this:

Our increasingly cynical world finds it near impossible to believe that goodness exists, let alone that it can be a compelling passion. But Les Mis take the opposite view, presenting us with a bitter, brutalised criminal who is converted by another man’s generosity in to someone who tends the weak, needy and outcast, is prepared to sacrifice his own safety and happiness to others, and refuses to hurt his most unforgiving foe when he has him in his clutches; the show has the imaginative thrust and the emotional authenticity to make you believe that this could be true. Perhaps that’s the reason that I don’t just like Les Mis, as I like the score of other great musicals. I love it.

While Nightingale simply describes Valjean’s change of heart as the effect of another man’s generosity, the grace of God is clearly evident in that act of generosity and in Valjean’s attitude thereafter. When he is faced with choice between revenge or forgiveness he says:

How can I ever face my fellow men?
How can I ever face myself again?
My soul belongs to God, I know
I made that bargain long ago
He gave me hope when hope was gone
He gave me strength to journey on.

The grace of God is so powerful and so restorative that, when received, can be paid forward in ways that are beyond our natural human capacity.

If you get the chance to see Les Miserables on stage, don’t just look out for great acting and amazing music, look out for a brilliant script that tells the story of grace-at-work.